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2 World-Renowned Choreographers, 2 World Premieres: Behind the Scenes of Boston Ballet’s MINDscape

Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozashvili in Jorma Elo’s Ruth’s Dance, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The performing arts have returned to Boston’s stages, with incredible talent and sold-out theaters taking their rightful place in city culture once again. Boston Ballet is one of the companies re-entering that vibrant space this spring, with two world premieres by choreographers Jorma Elo, Resident Choreographer for the Company, and William Forsythe, who has a long-term partnership with the Company. Together, their premieres make up MINDscape, live on stage from May 5–15 at the Citizens Bank Opera House. The two choreographic masters are here to introduce their stunning and immersive world premieres, detailing the process, the performance, and their cherished relationships with Boston Ballet.

It begins with the music

Something Elo and Forsythe agree on: The music always comes first. Elo’s ballet titled Ruth’s Dance is set to a Bach Concerto for two Pianos. “Most of the ideas come from this music, and my love for this music,” he says. “It’s music that I’ve wanted to use for a long time.” Elo was first introduced to this type of melody by his mother, who passed away a few months ago after a battle with dementia. “The last weeks I was with her, we danced to some of this music that I used in the ballet,” he says.

Even if Elo’s mother didn’t remember his name, he says she continued to sing the melodies and danced with him to the rhythms. That lasting connection via touch, rhythm, and music is what Elo says Ruth’s Dance is all about.

Forsythe’s premiere titled Blake Works III (2023), the latest installment in his continuously evolving work The Barre Project, is set to music by composer James Blake—a name you may recognize from the popular music idiom. “In certain James Blake works, the structure is very classical,” says Forsythe. “Because of his time signatures, it’s designed to instigate a dance, to get you up and jumping.” He wants Blake Works III to be something the audience can receive energy from, he says.

Lasha Khozashvili and Jorma Elo, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Perfecting the dance

For both Boston Ballet choreographers, building the performance with the Company is a sacred process, and, unsurprisingly, central to the art. Dancers have both class and rehearsal each day, totaling more than eight hours of learning and practice daily.

“It’s a learning profession,” Forsythe explains. “So, you come into class every day you have to learn new combinations at the barre, and you move out into the center for the jumps and turns.” Every combination that the instructor gives is new to the dancers, so it takes repetition and practice. For Blake Works III, the dancers got a chance to listen to music they enjoy on a personal level. “It’s so natural,” he says, “because that’s what they grew up with.”

According to Elo: “I’ve been working 16 years with the Company, so I know the organization very well,” he says. “They’re kind of co-creators with me. It feels like home. That embracing family feeling is one that dance companies often have.” He has a keen appreciation for the dancers, saying they are the instruments that give him the ability to execute a beautiful performance.

Boston Ballet in rehearsal with William Forsythe; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Forsythe says the same: “If you get the right talent, you can pretty much make anything,” he explains. “There’s pretty much no worry about being able to accomplish what one intends.” Dancers are the medium for this art, he explains, so skilled dancers enable precise communication to the audience.

That professionalism and quality is what both choreographers say brought them to Boston Ballet, and it makes it easy to continue calling Boston Ballet home. Elo calls the Company one of the highest-level ballet companies in the world, and likewise: “It’s one of the best-run ballet companies in the world,” says Forsythe. “They have a brilliant organization—it works.” He highlights their incredibly skilled personnel in technical departments, costume departments, and administration.

Chyrstyn Fentroy and Roddy Doble in William Forsythe’s Blake Works I; photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Anticipating the MINDscape Performance

For Elo and Forsythe, the excitement of MINDscape is about more than the idea of a world premiere. “I have been unable to premiere any of my creations because of COVID,” says Elo. “For people in the arts, they have to have a community to perform their work to. So, it’s really exciting to get back on stage.”

That idea is something that Forsythe’s Blake Works III also taps into, especially in its messaging to the viewers. He says it’s designed to make the audience feel part of a community. For both choreographers, the audience’s consumption of the dance is more like participation in the performance than passive spectating, and this phenomenon becomes a central part of the experience for the entire Company.

“The whole team of staff, ballet directors, they realize what it means to have a live audience, the dialogue with the audience,” Elo says. “I don’t have another word for it—it’s mystical and indescribable.” The audience, according to Elo, shares that experience. “And when you don’t have that for many years, you just feel emptiness.”

Elo and Forsythe are ready to replace that emptiness in the Boston arts community with the gift of MINDscape. “This is very much a celebratory work,” Forsythe says. “It’s about people’s capacity to prevail in spite.”

For more information on MINDscape and to purchase your tickets today, visit bostonballet.org/MINDscape.